Certain saints haunt the Western canon. Who could fail to recognize slender St. Sebastian leaning languidly against a tree, or St. Lucy peering primly over her cup of eyes? St. Jerome is the only cardinal known for consorting with lions, and St. Mary Magdalene carries her jar of spikenard from century to century.
St. Benedict is one such ubiquitous saint. Today, in honor of his feast, I would like to offer a few examples of St. Benedict’s image drawn from the history of Western art. Each offers a unique view of the Patriarch of Monks, and each bears careful examination and meditation. St. Benedict may have one of the most stable iconographic traditions in the Church, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t inspired a wide variety of artists to bring their own stamp to his image. His life and spirituality are too vast; he fills and spills beyond the few symbols allotted him. Thus, I give you these 21 representative selections.
Sancte Pater Benedicte, ora pro nobis.
St. Benedict enthroned with Roman abbot, fresco, c. 13th century. (Source)
St. Benedict’s Vision of the Universe. 14th century. (Source).
Death of Saint Benedict, Giovanni del Biondo, c. mid 14th century. (SourceSource)
The temptation of St. Benedict from the Mettener Regel. 1414. (Source).
Drawing of St. Benedict, 15th century. (Source).
St. Benedict with monks by a Bohemian artist, probably c. mid 15th century. (Source).
St. Benedict from Crucifixion With Saints, by Fra Angelico. c. 1441-42. San Marco, Florence. (Source)
Madonna and Child with St. Paul and St. Benedict, attr. to Francesco Vanni. c. Late 16th century. (Source)
The Temptation of St. Benedict, Alessandro Allori. c. 1587. The Fitzwilliam Museum. (Source).
Saint Benedict, by Fransisco de Zurbaran, c.1640-45. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. (Source).
Anne of Austria and her Children at Prayer with St. Benedict and St. Scholastica, Philippe de Champaigne. 1646. Versailles. (Source).
Vision of St. Benedict with Three Angels, Alonso Cano. c.1658-60. El Prado. (Source).
St. Benedict’s Triumphal Ascent to Heaven, by Johann Michael Rottmayr. 1721. Melk Abbey, (Source)
Statue of St. Benedict from the Augustinian church in Salamanca. Photo by Fr. Lawrence Lew OP. c. 16th-19th century. (Source)
S.s Benedict and Scholastica with Our Lady and Jesus. Peter Lenz, 1869. Beuron (Source).
Holy card style portrait of St. Benedict (Source).
St, Benedict in an English cowl. Date unknown, probably 19th or 20th century. (Source)
St. Benedict Hands His Rule to Pope Victor III. Pietro Annigoni. c. Mid to Late 20th century. (Source)
Fresco of St. Benedict, Dunstan Massey OSB. Late 20th century. (Source).
The Glory of St. Benedict, Pietro Annigoni. Late 20th century. (Source).